As a food blogger, it’s always lovely to receive invites to restaurant reviews but no matter how many restaurants I visit, I still get really excited when I’m invited to visit somewhere that I’ve heard particularly good things about.
So, when I checked my emails one day last month to discover an invite to the Chef’s Table at Laguna Kitchen and Bar, Park Plaza I was practically dancing on the ceiling! I had breakfast at Laguna after staying at Park Plaza hotel a few years ago and it was very impressive, but I haven’t got round to dining there for lunch or dinner before now. Previously crowned Restaurant of the Year in the South Wales Echo Food and Drink Awards, Laguna has a great reputation and I couldn’t wait to find out whether it lives up to its name.
With an emphasis on fine dining, the à la carte menu focuses upon fresh, quality ingredients sourced from Welsh suppliers, in addition to several carefully selected imports. From burgers and steaks to roasted fish and risotto, there’s something to suit all palates and just reading the descriptions of the dishes is enough to get my stomach rumbling.
We were going to experience the Chef’s Tasting Menu; a six-course menu designed by Head Chef Justin Llewellyn, who has previously cooked for the Queen(!) Accompanied by four glasses of wine carefully hand-picked to complement each dish, the menu offers fairly reasonable value for money at £45 per head; however, it’s only available on weekdays for groups of between 6-12 guests. I felt rather privileged to have been invited along, in the friendly company of fellow bloggers The Plate Licked Clean, The Little Nomad, Explore With Ed and The Jady Brunch.
Laguna doesn’t feel like your typical hotel restaurant. With a warm atmosphere and plenty of character, practically every single table is full even though it’s only a weekday evening. It’s a mixed crowd spanning couples, families and business parties from all age groups.
The Chef’s Table is a long, raised table at the rear of the restaurant, just in front of the pass. Sitting opposite, I enjoyed seeing the different dishes that emerged from the kitchen. However, the other side of the table had their backs to the pass, so they couldn’t catch any of the action and ended up getting pretty hot by the end of our meal.
Before embarking on the six-course menu, we nibbled on a selection of freshly baked bread, served with quality extra virgin olive oil and tangy, aged balsamic vinegar.
For the first course, we were treated to seared sushi grade tuna with french bean salad, finished with a chilli and lime dressing. The tuna had only been seared for a minute or so and had a vibrant, pink center. It was surprisingly meaty and tender; not at all how I expected semi-raw tuna to taste. Beautifully presented, the dish was garnished with sesame seeds and accompanied by a light, green salad complete with courgette spirals.
The tuna was paired with a glass of Del fin del Mundo Extra Brut; a Patagonian sparkling white wine with a salmon-pink tint, almost like rosé.
Following this, we tucked into shredded smoked duck with a salad of diced watermelon and orange. The duck had a deep, oak-smoked taste that was neutralised by the delicate, fruity flavours of the salad.
With fruity and floral undertones, French white wine (Ogier Cotes du Rhone Heritages Blanc, Rhone) was the perfect companion for this dish.
Halfway through our meal, we enjoyed a champagne sorbet as a palate cleanser before the main course. Light and refreshing, this had a subtle hint of champagne that wasn’t too bitter or overpowering.
The centerpiece of the menu was an open fillet of beef Wellington served with confit shallots, wild mushrooms, fondant potatoes (cooked in stock, butter and wine) and rioja jus. This showstopper of a dish provoked a chorus of impressed ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the table. Cooked to perfection, the 28-day matured beef fillet was incredibly tender with a slightly pink center. Some might say it was slightly on the large side for a six-course menu, although the dish didn’t include as much pastry as a traditional beef Wellington. Meanwhile, the wild mushroom sauce was mild and aromatic and the rioja jus soaked right into the potatoes, creating a rich, meaty flavour.
The beef Wellington was paired with another Patagonian wine; this time a deep, bold red to complement the red meat in the dish.
Moving on to dessert, the tonka bean panna cotta was the ideal follow-up to the meaty main course we’d just devoured. It’s smooth, creamy texture was somewhat soothing on the taste buds while the plump, marinated blackberries made for a sharp, yet sweet finishing touch.
Originally from South America, tonka beans are flat, wrinkled legumes with a flavour so over-whelming that they’re banned in the United States. Popular in French cuisine, the beans have a strong, vanilla scent and a temperature-sensitive taste; served cold, they have caramel undertones whereas if they’re served warm, they edge towards more of a spiced vanilla.
The panna cotta was served with a sweet Italian dessert wine, Moscato Passitto.
With just one course left to go, we moved into the hotel lounge to escape the heat of the restaurant and relax on the comfy sofa-seating. Here, we rounded off our evening with some petit fours; a combination of hand-made miniature macaroons, traditional Turkish delight and perfectly formed white chocolate triangles. These were teamed with freshly brewed teas and coffees of our choice; presumably to ward off our food comas until we’d managed to waddle home.
I feel truly blessed to have dined at the Chef’s Table at Laguna Kitchen and Bar and to have experienced Justin Llewellyn’s cooking for myself. The entire experience was fit for royalty and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone looking for a quality meal in Cardiff. It’s worth every penny and more, although with most restaurants charging at least £5 for a glass of wine alone, £45 is pretty reasonable for a six-course meal including wine-matching.
Have you been to Laguna Kitchen and Bar before? What did you think of it? Leave a comment below.
Laguna Kitchen and Bar
Park Plaza Cardiff
(029) 2011 1103
I was invited to Laguna as a guest and our food and drinks were provided complimentary; however, I was not obliged to write a positive review.